The Illinois High School Association is urging its member schools and their communities to oppose a recently filed state Senate bill that would allow a student-athlete to play in a football game without having participated in the 12 practices mandated by the association - if that player missed those practices because of military training. Football is the only IHSA sport that has a minimum number of practices required before game participation.
"This is very dangerous and counterproductive legislation," IHSA executive director Marty Hickman says about Senate Bill 2550, which was filed by Sen. Shane Cultra (R) on Jan. 11. "First and foremost, this is an issue of student health and safety, not an issue of patriotism. We all applaud and support young people who choose to serve our country. ... While students who receive military training will have some level of conditioning, they are not in football-playing condition as defined by medical professionals. Our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee has consistently maintained that all students need to have 12 days of football practice prior to participating in an interscholastic football game."
The Illinois Athletic Trainers Association, the Illinois Athletic Directors Association and the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee have also joined the IHSA in opposing the bill. According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, 38 high school football players in the United States have died from heat-related illnesses since 2000, including five in 2011. There were 29 total deaths from 1980-1999.
In June 2009, the Journal of Athletic Training published a report entitled "Preseason Heat-Acclimatization Guidelines for Secondary School Athletics," which defines the heat-acclimatization period and explains that other activities that occur prior to preseason football practice should not be counted toward student-athlete acclimatization. Here is an excerpt:
The heat-acclimatization period is defined as the initial 14 consecutive days of preseason practice for all student-athletes. The goal of the acclimatization period is to enhance exercise heat tolerance and the ability to exercise safely and effectively in warm to hot conditions. This period should begin on the first day of practice or conditioning before the regular season. Any practices or conditioning conducted before this time should not be considered a part of the heat-acclimatization period. Regardless of the conditioning program and conditioning status leading up to the first formal practice, all student-athletes (including those who arrive at preseason practice after the first day of practice) should follow the 14-day heat-acclimatization plan. During the preseason heat-acclimatization period, if practice occurs on 6 consecutive days, student-athletes should have 1 day of complete rest (no conditioning, walk-throughs, practices, etc).
Cultura's proposal comes in the wake of an IHSA ruling in August that prevented Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School senior Eddie Nuss from playing in his team's season opener because he was unable to attend the mandated preseason practices. Nuss had been in military training in Fort Benning, Ga., since June and was expected to return home shortly before PBL's season opener. The senator says his bill would give local school boards the opportunity to award military sport waivers and also provide coaches, athletic directors, schools, school boards and school districts immunity from any liability after granting the waiver.
"Last fall, we had a case of an overactive bureaucracy at the IHSA," Cultra said in a statement provided to ESPNChicago.com. "Essentially, they penalized a three-letter sport athlete for enlisting in the military. Quite frankly, this is absurd; this individual successfully completed basic training, is fit enough to defend our nation, but somehow is unfit for football? The IHSA took an approach that, in my opinion, discriminated against a young man who decided to serve his nation. One would hope that the IHSA takes a serious look at this policy, before they taint yet another football season or volleyball season for a young person who chose to enlist." "You could make the case that the practice requirements to compete in a football game should be more stringent," counters Hickman. "And I believe the sentiment nationally is trending toward creating more restrictions in this area. Allowing a school board to completely disregard the advice of trained medical professionals who are immersed in this field really just defies logic. Our committee [primarily physicians and certified athletic trainers] has the training and background to make that judgment. Their decision is supported by research and not fueled by emotion. More importantly, research tells us that heat illnesses are preventable. When you take into account all the positive steps forward that sports organizations around the world have made for athlete safety over the past decade, this bill would be a significant step backward for high school students in Illinois."